A simple mechanism for integration of quorum sensing and cAMP signalling in V. cholerae

  1. School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston B15 2TT, UK
  2. Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA


  • Reviewing Editor
    Arturo Casadevall
    Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, United States of America
  • Senior Editor
    Arturo Casadevall
    Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, United States of America

Reviewer #1 (Public Review):

This manuscript by Walker et. al. explores the interplay between the global regulators HapR (the QS master high cell density (HDC) regulator) and CRP. Using ChIP-Seq, the authors find that at several sites, the HapR and CRP binding sites overlap. A detailed exploration of the murPQ promoter finds that CRP binding promotes HapR binding, which leads to repression of murPQ. The authors have a comprehensive set of experiments that paints a nice story providing a mechanistic explanation for converging global regulation. I did feel there are some weak points though, in particular the lack of integration of previously identified transcription start sites, the lack of replication (at least replication presented in the manuscript) for many figures, some oddities in the growth curve, and not reexamining their HapR/CRP cooperative binding model in vivo using ChIP-Seq.

Reviewer #2 (Public Review):

This manuscript by Walker et al describes an elegant study that synergizes our knowledge of virulence gene regulation of Vibrio cholerae. The work brings a new element of regulation for CRP, notably that CRP and the high density regulator HapR co-occupy the same site on the DNA but modeling predicts they occupy different faces of the DNA. The DNA binding and structural modeling work is nicely conducted and data of co-occupation are convincing. The work could benefit from doing a better job in the manuscript preparation to integrate the findings into our current state of knowledge of HapR and CRP regulated genes and to elevate the impact of the work to address how bacteria are responding to the nutritional environment. Importantly, the focus of the work is heavily based on the impact of use of GlcNAc as a carbon source when bacteria bind to chitin in the environment, but absent the impact during infection when CRP and HapR have known roles. Further, the impact on biological events controlled by HapR integration with the utilization of carbon sources (including biofilm formation) is not explored. The rigor and reproducibility of the work needs to be better conveyed.

Specific comments to address:

  1. Abstract. A comment on the impact of this work should be included in the last sentence. Specifically, how the integration of CRP with QS for gene expression under specific environments impacts the lifestyle of Vc is needed. The discussion includes comments regarding the impact of CRP regulation as a sensor of carbon source and nutrition and these could be quickly summarized as part of the abstract.
  2. Line 74. This paper examines the overlap of HapR with CRP, but ignores entirely AphA. HapR is repressed by Qrrs (downstream of LuxO-P) while AphA is activated by Qrrs. WithLuxO activating AphA, it has a significant sized "regulon" of genes turned on at low density. It seems reasonable that there is a possibility of overlap also between CRP and AphA. While doing an AphA CHIP-seq is likely outside the scope of this work, some bioinformatic or simply a visual analysis of the promoters known AphA regulated genes would be interest to comment on with speculation in the discussion and/or supplement.
  3. Line 100. Accordingly with the above statement, the focus here on HapR indicates that the focus is on gene expression via LuxO and HapR, at high density. Thus the sentence should read "we sought to map the binding of LuxO and HapR of V. cholerae genome at high density".
  4. Line 109. The identification of minor LuxO binding site in the intergenic region between VC1142 and VC1143 raises whether there may be a previously unrecognized sRNA here. As another panel in figure S1, can you provide a map of the intergenic region showing the start codons and putative -10 to -35 sites. Is there room here for an sRNA? Is there one known from the many sRNA predictions / identifications previously done? Some additional analysis would be helpful.
  5. Line 117. This sentence states that the CHIP seq analysis in this study includes previously identified HapR regulated genes, but does not reveal that many known HapR regulated genes are absent from Table 1 and thus were missed in this study. Of 24 HapR regulated investigated by Tsou et al, only 1 is found in Table 1 of this study. A few are commented in the discussion and Figure S7. It might be useful to add a Venn Diagram to Figure 1 (and list table in supplement) for results of Tsou et al, Waters et al, Lin et al, and Nielson et al and any others). A major question is whether the trend found here for genes identified by CHIP-seq in this study hold up across the entire HapR regulon. There should also be comments in the discussion on perhaps how different methods (including growth state and carbon sources of media) may have impacted the complexity of the regulon identified by the different authors and different methods.
  6. The transcription data are generally well performed. In all figures, add comments to the figure legends that the experiments are representative gels from n=# (the number of replicate experiments for the gel based assays). Statements to the rigor of the work are currently missing.
  7. Line 357-360. The demonstration of lack of growth on MurNAc is a nice for the impact of the work. However, more detailed comments are needed for M9 plus glucose for the uninformed reader to be reminded that growth in glucose is also impaired due to lack of cAMP in glucose replete conditions and thus minimal CRP is active. But why is this now dependent of hapR? A reminder also that in LB oligopeptides from tryptone are the main carbon source and thus CRP would be active.
  8. A great final experiment to demonstrate the model would have been to show co-localization of the promoter by CRP and HapR from bacteria grown in LB media but not in LB+glucose or in M9+glycerol and M9+MurNAc but not M9+glucose. This would enhance the model by linking more directly to the carbon sources (currently only indirect via growth curves)
  9. Discussion. Comments and model focus heavily on GlcNAc-6P but HapR has a regulator role also during late infection (high density). How does CRP co-operativity impact during the in vivo conditions? Does the Biphasic role of CRP play a role here (PMID: 20862321)?

Reviewer #3 (Public Review):

Bacteria sense and respond to multiple signals and cues to regulate gene expression. To define the complex network of signaling that ultimately controls transcription of many genes in cells requires an understanding of how multiple signaling systems can converge to effect gene expression and ensuing bacterial behaviors. The global transcription factor CRP has been studied for decades as a regulator of genes in response to glucose availability. It's direct and indirect effects on gene expression have been documented in E. coli and other bacteria including pathogens including Vibrio cholerae. Likewise, the master regulator of quorum sensing (QS), HapR), is a well-studied transcription factor that directly controls many genes in Vibrio cholerae and other Vibrios in response to autoinducer molecules that accumulate at high cell density. By contrast, low cell density gene expression is governed by another regulator AphA. It has not yet been described how HapR and CRP may together work to directly control transcription and what genes are under such direct dual control.

Using both in vivo methods with gene fusions to lacZ and in vitro transcription assays, the authors proceed to identify the smaller subset of genes whose transcription is directly repressed (7) and activated (2) by HapR. Prior work from this group identified the direct CRP binding sites in the V. cholerae genome as well as promoters with overlapping binding sites for AphA and CRP, thus it appears a logical extension of these prior studies is to explore here promoters for potential integration of HapR and CRP. Inclusion of this rationale was not included in the introduction of CRP protein to the in vitro experiments.

Seven genes are found to be repressed by HapR in vivo, the promoter regions of only six are repressed in vitro with purified HapR protein alone. The authors propose and then present evidence that the seventh promoter, which controls murPQ, requires CRP to be repressed by HapR both using in vivo and vitro methods. This is a critical insight that drives the rest of the manuscripts focus.

The DNase protection assay conducted supports the emerging model that both CRP and HapR bind at the same region of the murPQ promoter, but interpret is difficult due to the poor quality of the blot. There are areas of apparent protection at positions +1 to +15 that are not discussed, and the areas highlighted are difficult to observe with the blot provided.

The model proposed at the end of the manuscript proposes physiological changes in cells that occur at transitions from the low to high cell density. Experiments in the paper that could strengthen this argument are incomplete. For example, in Fig. 4e it is unclear at what cell density the experiment is conducted. The results with the wild type strain are intermediate relative to the other strains tested. Cell density should affect the result here since HapR is produced at high density but not low density. This experiment would provide important additional insights supporting their model, by measuring activity at both cell densities and also in a luxO mutant locked at the high cell density. Conducting this experiment in conditions lacking and containing glucose would also reveal whether high glucose conditions mimicking the crp results.

Throughout the paper it was challenging to account for the number of genes selected, the rationale for their selection, and how they were prioritized. For example, the authors acknowledged toward the end of the Results section that in their prior work, CRP and HapR binding sites were identified (line 321-22). It is unclear whether the loci indicated in Table 1 all from this prior study. It would be useful to denote in this table the seven genes characterized in Figure 2 and to provide the locus tag for murPQ. Of the 32 loci shown in Table 1, five were selected for further study using EMSA (line 322), but no rationale is given for studying these five and not others in the table.

Since prior work identified a consensus CRP binding motif, the authors identify the DNA sequence to which HapR binds overlaps with a sequence also predicted to bind CRP. Genome analysis identified a total of seven sites where the CRP and HapR binding sites were offset by one nucleotide as see with murPQ. Lines 327-8 describe EMSA results with several of these DNA sequences but provides no data to support this statement. Are these loci in Table 1?

Using structural models, the authors predict that HapR repression requires protein-protein interactions with CRP. Electromobility shift assays (EMSA) with purified promoter DNA, CRP and HapR (Fig 5d) and in vitro transcription using purified RNAP with these factors (Figure 5e) support this hypothesis. However, the model proports that HapR "bound tightly" and that it also had a "lower affinity" when CRP protein was used that had mutations in a putative interaction interface. These claims can be bolstered if the authors calculate the dissociation constant (Kd) value of each protein to the DNA. This provides a quantitative assessment of the binding properties of the proteins. The concentrations of each protein are not indicated in panels of the in vitro analysis, but only the geometric shapes denoting increasing protein levels. Panel 5e appears to indicate that an intermediate level of CRP was used in the presence of HapR, which presumably coincides with levels used in lane 4, but rationale is not provided. How well the levels of protein used in vitro compare to levels observed in vivo is not mentioned.

The authors are commended for seeking to connect the in vitro and vivo results obtained under lab conditions with conditions experienced by V. cholerae in niches it may occupy, such as aquatic systems. The authors briefly review the role of MurPQ in recycling of the cell wall of V. cholerae by degrading MurNAc into GlcNAc, although no references are provided (lines 146-50). Based on this physiology and results reported, the authors propose that murPQ gene expression by these two signal transduction pathways has relevance in the environment, where Vibrios, including V. cholerae, forms biofilms on exoskeleton composed of GlcNAc.

The conclusions of that work are supported by the Results presented but additional details in the text regarding the characteristics of the proteins used (Kd, concentrations) would strengthen the conclusions drawn. This work provides a roadmap for the methods and analysis required to develop the regulatory networks that converge to control gene expression in microbes. The study has the potential to inform beyond the sub-filed of Vibrios, QS and CRP regulation.

  1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  2. Wellcome Trust
  3. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
  4. Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation